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Friday, March 19, 1999 Published at 15:30 GMT

World: Americas

'Star Wars' comeback irks Russia

Representatives and Senate both supported the bill

Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has described the US Congress decision to resume development work on a national missile defence system as an "unpleasant surprise".

BBC Correspondent Eileen Whelan reports on the latest 'Star Wars' defence technology
Mr Primakov said in a US television interview that reviving the project - nicknamed Star Wars - would be in breach of an international weapons control treaty.

"I don't believe we need to get involved in another race ... or bring back the infamous Star Wars," Mr Primakov told NBC Nightly News.

[ image: Congressman Dennis Kucinich demonstrating the inaffectiveness of a
Congressman Dennis Kucinich demonstrating the inaffectiveness of a "nuclear umbrella"
China has also expressed "serious concern" over the vote, fearing similar technology could be used to forge a defence umbrella in Asia.

The Star Wars project was first proposed by President Ronald Reagan 16 years ago, but it was abandoned because it was too costly and too complex to develop.

But now the Congress has said the US must implement some kind of missile defence system as soon as possible.

President Bill Clinton is expected to support the Congress resolution, but he has said he wants to wait until next year to decide whether to deploy such a defence system.

'Protecting the American people'

The House of Representatives approved on Thursday a 15-word statement making it national policy to put in place a system to defend against incoming missiles.

US Affairs Analyst Jonathan Marcus: Clinton knows an election year is looming
The Senate had voted on Wednesday to commit the government to the deployment of a missile defence shield as soon as technology permitted.

"This takes another step toward protecting the American people from a missile attack," said Rep Floyd Spence, a South Carolina Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee.

President Clinton and the Democratic Party had been wary of such a commitment, warning that it could wreck arms control efforts and drain the defence budget, with no guarantee of the system's effectiveness.

Neither the House nor Senate bill specifies a time frame, costs or specifics of the defence plan.

Asian threats

BBC Washington Correspondent Richard Lister says congressional approval for the project has increased as a reaction to efforts by North Korea and Iran to develop long-range missiles, as well as the possibility that China may have stolen American nuclear secrets.

The Defence Department is already trying to develop a ground-based system which would use radar and satellite tracking to target incoming missiles and shoot them down.

The administration says it could be installed in about six years.

International objections

Russia says the US plans would contravene the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty.

The Chinese have warned that they might be forced to boost their own military deployments if the system is given to South Korea, Japan or Taiwan.

Our correspondent says missile defence could become a major stumbling block in Washington's relationship with both Moscow and Beijing if it does prove to be technically viable.

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